Confessionalism in the Book of Job
By: Jim Virkler
Our current post title could be a source of some confusion or misunderstanding. In the context of our blog we will attempt to clarify how confessionalism relates to this inspired Scripture book.
The term confession has several valid meanings. In our secular language usage it most often refers to acknowledgement of wrong. In the world of church history, a confession is a statement or statements expressing religious doctrine. Over the last few centuries there have been many examples of confessions or confessionalism which embrace belief in and assent to a body of religious teaching, a unified interpretation of church doctrine. Confessional statements are usually broad and sweeping. There are dozens of Christian confessions which arose from doctrinal discussions generated by devout church figures around the time of the Reformation.
We examine one of the most significant confessions of the Christian reformers. It originated in the lowlands of the Netherlands, today divided into The Netherlands and Belgium. It is known as the Belgic Confession written in 1561. Its authors were intensely persecuted for their beliefs; many died. This confession is still recognized as one of the best summaries of Reformed Christian doctrine.
Article 2 of the 37-article Belgic Confession is a beautiful acknowledgement that characteristics of the natural world affirm the divine character of God in our created world. Through the wonders of the natural world, God is exalted, the Confession states: “We know him (God) by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since the universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity…” This echoes the message of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:20: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
Psalm 19:1-4 is also a powerful affirmation of the Belgic Confession: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (ESV). In the early church when Peter and John were strictly charged to stop preaching in the name of Jesus by the ruling council (Acts 4:17), they returned to the believers and reported on their experience (Acts 4:24). The believers exulted and praised the “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them…” The Apostle Paul praised “the God who made heaven and earth and everything in it” when he addressed the idolatrous “Men of Athens.” He urged them to consider the apologetic value of observing the God-created world as a prelude to belief in the reality of Christ’s redemptive work and the fact that he could live in us! (Act 17:22-28)
The Book of Job is a wonderful foretaste of the Belgian Confession. We might term it the “Job Confession.” The subject of the Book of Job is primarily the righteous omniscience and omnipotence of God in all human experience, but profound wonders of nature observed and described in Job’s day are supporting topics of discussion introduced by Job, Elihu, and the Lord himself. Modern scientists have explained the wonders of nature even more profoundly. The “universe…before our eyes” described by the Belgic Confession, refers to wonders of astronomy, weather, and living creatures—“all creatures great and small”—which make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power, and his divinity.”
Astronomical references such as binding the chains of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion suggest the influence of gravity on these suspended bodies in space—not a well understood concept over 3500 years ago. Weather phenomena such as reference to the modern concept of an operating water cycle with its sequence of water transitioning among different phases in unique circulation cycles are suggestive of contemporary meteorological knowledge. Unique animal behavior detailed by the Lord in Job 38-41 inspires serious contemplation. Who is the Creator of these animals? What are his attributes?
The Belgic Confession is somewhat unique in its statements of support for knowing God through the wonders of the physical creation. It is part of the “two-books doctrine”—the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. The Book of Nature is known as “general revelation” while the Book of Scripture is termed “special revelation.” One is not more important than the other. Both are important pillars of our Christian faith.
We link our past post from 5/3/2012. It outlines my personal journey from reliance primarily on special revelation to reliance on both special revelation and general revelation. Stated differently, we rely on ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’ in regard to divine revelation:
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.